How Your Home’s Paint Color and Decor Affects Your Mental Health
Consider the times for a moment: We relax by watching Marie Kondo throw away suitcases of clothing and pantry-makeover companies get Netflix deals. So it’s pretty tempting to believe a higher consciousness (or just an air of superiority) is waiting for us after we throw away all our possessions to live humble-braggy in a well-lit loft with a citrine mortar and pestle and 24 plants.
The idea that life can be made better by redesigning your home is not new; there’s long been a correlation between health and home. Interior design has carried psychological power with it for centuries: Feng shui, which posits that a person’s destiny can be helped along by key home-balancing elements, dates to ancient China. But with a wellness industry that extends to vitamins, color therapy, and dog food, our homes are especially rife with self-care possibilities. Are some of the theories absurd? Absolutely. But for every unfounded or slightly kooky idea, there’s another that is backed by solid scientific research.
In the 1960s, Madeline Gins and Shusaku Arakawa had perhaps the loftiest home design intention ever. The artist/architect duo, who founded the philosophy of Reversible Destiny, believed that they could build homes that would grant eternal life to the people who lived in them. They died in 2010 and 2014 respectively, thereby disproving the theory, but it turns out they were on to something. Studies have shown that social relationships, even for the shyest and most introverted people, can have a big impact on health and life expectancy — which means that having a cabin in the middle of nowhere, while great for meditation, might not be best for your overall well-being. The ideal home encourages interaction and connection with your community, even if only via passing pleasantries with neighbors.
This is where the front porch comes in. Dakar David Kopec, an architectural psychologist and associate professor of architecture at the University of Nevada, recommends inviting interactions with some kind of outward-facing entranceway. “A front porch encourages casual conversations with pedestrians, people who are out walking their dogs,” says Kopec. “It’s not intimate, and you can get some full-spectrum sunlight, which boosts serotonin and, depending on where you live, access to nature, which is grounding.” If you’re taking notes, that means you want your house to be close to other people, have a view of at least a few trees, and come with an appealing front porch (or stoop if you live in a city).
If there is one golden rule of decorating for the soul, it is this: Our third eye does not like clutter.
The inside of the Imaginary House of Optimal Well-being would apply many of the same principles. Namely, it’s friendly. Let’s start in the bedroom. Practicing good sleep hygiene (sleeping seven to nine hours a night and keeping the bedroom tech-free, cool, and dark) is now fairly common among the turmeric-is-a-miracle set, but there are other, more subtle health factors at play in designing a bedroom.
Color studies equate certain shades with psychological responses (greens and blues tend to lower blood pressure slightly and induce calm, while red can increase concentration and blood flow). These responses can vary between cultures. What is fairly universal: The absence of color can be disruptive to everyone. “Studies have been done on ‘the white effect,’” says Bonnie Sanborn, an environmental psychologist and the design research leader at DLR Group, an integrated design firm in Chicago, “which is essentially that blankness and white are very energizing to the point of being distracting because there’s a lack of detail to let the mind relax and focus on.”